Is Becoming a Dentist Worth $261,149 in Debt?

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Dental school debt

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Dentistry might appeal to you if you want to improve people’s wellness and oral health. It’s a hands-on profession that often calls for creative problem-solving. Dentistry can also be an ideal path to owning your own practice, setting your own schedule, and earning a six-figure income.

But there’s one big drawback to a career in dentistry: dental school debt. Here’s what you need to consider before taking out loans for school.

Average dental school debt and ROI

For many considering dental school, a dentist’s high earning potential is a big draw.

“I think the costs of dental school are worth the benefits — you can make a very good living of it,” said Jason Cabler, DDS, a dentist who’s been practicing for 24 years and oversees the personal finance blog Celebrating Financial Freedom.

The median pay for dentists is $153,900, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. New dental school graduates won’t be earning this much right away. But they will start with relatively high pay, with a median entry-level salary of $118,800, according to PayScale.

The biggest reasons to think twice about dental school, however, are the costs and dental school debt. Still, you’re looking forward to big earnings.

Before deciding to attend dental school, research the costs and project your financial outcomes. “Get serious about repaying [your debt] — dentistry can be a stressful profession, and debt will just add to that stress,” said Cabler.

Lost earnings while in dental school: $220,000

Dental school isn’t just an investment of your time. You’re also missing out on potential income. A typical graduate with a bachelor’s of science in chemistry (a common major for pre-dental undergraduates) can expect a typical salary of $55,000 annually, per PayScale.

But a graduate who chooses to use her time attending dental school will lose out on those earnings. Typical lost earnings would be around $220,000 over the four years it takes to earn a Doctor of Medicine in Dentistry (DMD) degree.

Average dental school debt: $261,149

Then there’s the matter of paying for dental school. Students often have to borrow heavily to cover tuition, fees, and equipment or supplies needed for their studies.

It’s not uncommon to take out student loans to cover living costs while attending dental school full-time, either. Because of this, the average dental school debt was $261,149 for the graduating class of 2016, according to the American Dental Education Association.

Here are some more stats on average dental school debt:

  • A borrower with the average dental school debt of $261,149, who borrowed at the Grad PLUS rate of 6.31%, faces a monthly payment of $2,940.
  • This same borrower would pay $91,664 in interest on this debt, for a total cost of $352,813.
  • It’s rare to make it out of dental school with no or little debt; only one in five 2016 dental school graduates had dental school debt under $100,000.
  • Among dental school graduates with debt, 30 percent owed more than $300,000.

Dentists make back their $570,000 investment in 8 years

Between missed earnings, student debt principal, and interest, a dental school graduate can count on sinking about $570,000 into dental school. But that investment also buys dental school graduates a spot in a high-paying profession. So how long does this investment take to start paying off?

The return on investment will depend, of course, on how much a new dentist is paid. Dentists who graduate and are able to find high-paying jobs will see a return on their dental school investment much faster.

Let’s compare the typical entry-level salary of $118,800 with the $55,000 average salary of a chemist with a bachelor’s degree. Assuming a five percent increase in earnings each year, here’s how the earnings compare:

Dentist salary Bachelor’s salary Difference Total return
Year 1 $118,800.00 $55,000.00 $63,800.00 $63,800.00
Year 2 $124,740.00 $57,750.00 $66,990.00 $130,790.00
Year 3 $130,977.00 $60,637.50 $70,339.50 $201,129.50
Year 4 $137,525.85 $63,669.38 $73,856.48 $274,985.98
Year 5 $144,402.14 $66,852.84 $77,549.30 $352,535.27
Year 6 $151,622.25 $70,195.49 $81,426.76 $433,962.04
Year 7 $159,203.36 $73,705.26 $85,498.10 $519,460.14
Year 8 $167,163.53 $77,390.52 $89,773.01 $609,233.15


As shown in the table above, it takes about eight years on average for a dentist’s increased earning potential to offset the cost of dental school. However, by that point, the investment in dental school is also generating an impressive $90,000 extra in income each year.

5 Questions to figure out if dental school debt is worth it

Now you’ve seen the typical dental school return on investment. But these numbers are not the whole picture. There are other factors to consider besides just your bottom line. And a central concern should be managing dental school debt.

Here are five questions you should consider when weighing your personal dental school ROI:

1. Will dentistry make me happy?

Danny Masters, DDS, is a recent dental school graduate who blogs about his journey out of student debt at Red Two Green. He said that the decision to go to dental school had more to do with his dream of becoming a dentist than earning a high income.

“I am confident that you can earn a lot of money as a dentist, but because it is so expensive, that shouldn’t be the only factor,” Masters said. “From a purely financial perspective, I think there are lots of other jobs you can get or create and earn six figures without investing half a million.”

Cabler agrees that dentistry won’t be the right career for everyone. For those considering dental school, he suggests getting an idea of what the job is like.

“I made friends with my dentist, for instance, and went in and hung out with him in his practice as much as I could to see what it is all about,” he said. “I had a good idea of what I was walking into, but some people don’t.”

2. Can I limit dental school debt?

You should also consider whether you can limit your dental school debt. If you can reduce the amount of debt you take on, it can have a huge effect on your finances for at least 10 years after graduation.

Masters ended up graduating with $570,000 in combined graduate and dental school debt — a high balance that he said was the result of not living on a budget while in dental school. He wishes he’d done more to limit his dental school debt and had some suggestions for how those attending can do so:

  • Get used to living on a budget. “Start now by living on a budget and get used to that lifestyle until your loans are paid off,” Masters said.
  • Downsize your expenses. Consider switching to a cheaper apartment or even moving back in with parents while in school.
  • Choose a low-cost dental school. “Sometimes you don’t have many options in terms of what dental schools you are accepted to,” Masters said. “But aim for the best schools with the smallest price tag,” both when applying and choosing your dental school. For instance, in-state public dental schools will be less costly than private dental schools.
  • Borrow only what you need. Student loans are not free money, so resist the temptation to treat them that way. Only take out student loans for the amounts you need to cover tuition and bare necessities, even if you could borrow more.
  • Get someone else to pay for dental school. Apply for every scholarship you can find. Consider participating in programs like National Health Service Corps (NHSC) and the armed forces that offer tuition assistance for a work commitment.

3. Is student loan forgiveness really an option?

In addition to limiting dental school debt, students should also make a plan to repay student loans. Don’t assume you can have your student loans forgiven.

“Many classmates would say things in passing like, ‘Eh, we’ll just apply for student loan forgiveness,’” Masters recalled. “But [student loan forgiveness] really is a complicated decision and fairly uncharted territory.”

Programs offering student loan forgiveness for dentists have specific rules for eligibility. You can see a full list of these programs in our guide to student loan forgiveness for dentists.

Qualifying for student loan forgiveness might require a dentist to move — often to rural areas — for a lower pay. Deciding whether to trade a high income for forgiveness is not a cut-and-dry decision.

4. What are my dental school debt repayment options?

Look into other options to keep dental school debt affordable:

  • Private student loans might offer lower interest rates than what you’d get on federal Grad PLUS loans.
  • Income-driven repayment plans can lower high monthly payments based on your income, to keep them affordable.
  • Refinancing dental school loans can be another option to lower your interest rates and monthly payments after dental school. For example, SoFi has a special refinancing offer for medical and dental residents.

With each option, think carefully about potential tradeoffs. For example, Masters said he hopes to refinance his debt to reduce the interest he pays. But he wants to wait until he’s sure he can afford the monthly payments that would be as high as $7,000 for a 10-year term.

“You lose protections when you refinance, so when you have as much debt as we do, it’s a good idea to have sure footing going into it,” he said.

5. Can I aggressively pay down student debt?

The above options can be helpful in managing student debt. But for dentists looking to maximize their dental school ROI, working to pay down student debt fast will be one of the best ways to do so. For each student loan you pay off, you free up cash flow and reduce the amount of interest you pay over time.

Maximizing your earning potential can help you generate extra income to put toward student loans, too. For instance, you might choose to pursue high-paying dental specialties.

You might also work toward owning your own practice. Private practitioners often earn higher incomes and have more growth opportunities than dentists working with a dental service organization.

With a dentist’s high pay, it will still be a challenge — but doable. “When you get out of school you’re going to be making a good bit of money,” Cabler says. “But I recommend that for the first two or three years after school, live like you’re still in dental school and put every extra penny towards student loans.”

If this is your goal, refinancing dental school debt can be a smart strategy. If you can get lower interest rates, more of your payments will go toward actually lowering your principal and paying off the loan.

Interested in refinancing student loans?

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1 Important Disclosures for Earnest.

Earnest Disclosures

To qualify, you must be a U.S. citizen or possess a 10-year (non-conditional) Permanent Resident Card, reside in a state Earnest lends in, and satisfy our minimum eligibility criteria. You may find more information on loan eligibility here: Not all applicants will be approved for a loan, and not all applicants will qualify for the lowest rate. Approval and interest rate depend on the review of a complete application.

Earnest fixed rate loan rates range from 3.89% APR (with Auto Pay) to 7.89% APR (with Auto Pay). Variable rate loan rates range from 2.47% APR (with Auto Pay) to 6.97% APR (with Auto Pay). For variable rate loans, although the interest rate will vary after you are approved, the interest rate will never exceed 8.95% for loan terms 10 years or less. For loan terms of 10 years to 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 9.95%. For loan terms over 15 years, the interest rate will never exceed 11.95% (the maximum rates for these loans). Earnest variable interest rate loans are based on a publicly available index, the one month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR). Your rate will be calculated each month by adding a margin between 1.82% and 5.50% to the one month LIBOR. The rate will not increase more than once per month. Earnest rate ranges are current as of Month/Day/Year, and are subject to change based on market conditions and borrower eligibility.

Auto Pay discount: If you make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic, monthly deduction from a savings or checking account, your rate will be reduced by one quarter of one percent (0.25%) for so long as you continue to make automatic, electronic monthly payments. This benefit is suspended during periods of deferment and forbearance.

The information provided on this page is updated as of 08/21/18. Earnest reserves the right to change, pause, or terminate product offerings at any time without notice. Earnest loans are originated by Earnest Operations LLC. California Finance Lender License 6054788. NMLS # 1204917. Earnest Operations LLC is located at 302 2nd Street, Suite 401N, San Francisco, CA 94107. Terms and Conditions apply. Visit, email us at, or call 888-601-2801 for more information on ourstudent loan refinance product.

© 2018 Earnest LLC. All rights reserved. Earnest LLC and its subsidiaries, including Earnest Operations LLC, are not sponsored by or agencies of the United States of America.

2 Important Disclosures for Laurel Road.

Laurel Road Disclosures

APR stands for “Annual Percentage Rate.” Rates listed include a 0.25% EFT discount, for automatic payments made from a checking or savings account. Interest rates as of 11/8/2018. Rates subject to change.

Variable rate options consist of a range from 3.27% per year to 6.09% per year for a 5-year term, 4.64% per year to 6.14% per year for a 7-year term, 4.69% per year to 6.19% per year for a 10-year term, 4.94% per year to 6.44% per year for a 15-year term, or 5.19% per year to 6.69% per year for a 20-year term, with no origination fees. APR is subject to increase after consummation. The variable interest rate will change on the first day of every month (“Change Date”) if the Current Index changes. The variable interest rates are based on a Current Index, which is the 1-month London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) (currency in US dollars), as published on The Wall Street Journal’s website. The variable interest rates and Annual Percentage Rate (APR) will increase or decrease when the 1-month LIBOR index changes. The variable interest rates are calculated by adding a margin ranging from 0.98% to 3.80% for the 5-year term loan, 2.35% to 3.85% for the 7-year term loan, 2.40% to 3.90% for the 10-year term loan, 2.65% to 4.15% for the 15-year term loan, and 2.90% to 4.40% for the 20-year term loan, respectively, to the 1-month LIBOR index published on the 25th day of each month immediately preceding each “Change Date,” as defined above, rounded to two decimal places, with no origination fees. If the 25th day of the month is not a business day or is a US federal holiday, the reference date will be the most recent date preceding the 25th day of the month that is a business day. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 3.27% per year to 6.09% per year for a 5-year term would be from $180.89 to $193.75. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.64% per year to 6.14% per year for a 7-year term would be from $139.65 to $146.76. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.69% per year to 6.19% per year for a 10-year term would be from $104.56 to $111.98. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 4.94% per year to 6.44% per year for a 15-year term would be from $78.77 to $86.78. The monthly payment for a sample $10,000 loan at a range of 5.19% per year to 6.69% per year for a 20-year term would be from $67.05 to $75.68.

However, if the borrower chooses to make monthly payments automatically by electronic funds transfer (EFT) from a bank account, the variable rate will decrease by 0.25%, and will increase back up to the regular variable interest rate described in the preceding paragraph if the borrower stops making (or we stop accepting) monthly payments automatically by EFT from the designated borrower’s bank account.

3 Important Disclosures for SoFi.

SoFi Disclosures

  1. Student loan Refinance:
    Fixed rates from 3.899% APR to 7.979% APR (with AutoPay). Variable rates from 2.470% APR to 6.990% APR (with AutoPay). Interest rates on variable rate loans are capped at either 8.95% or 9.95% depending on term of loan. See APR examples and terms. Lowest variable rate of 2.470% APR assumes current 1 month LIBOR rate of 2.30% plus 0.91% margin minus 0.25% ACH discount. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. If approved for a loan, the fixed or variable interest rate offered will depend on your creditworthiness, and the term of the loan and other factors, and will be within the ranges of rates listed above. For the SoFi variable rate loan, the 1-month LIBOR index will adjust monthly and the loan payment will be re-amortized and may change monthly. APRs for variable rate loans may increase after origination if the LIBOR index increases. The SoFi 0.25% AutoPay interest rate reduction requires you to agree to make monthly principal and interest payments by an automatic monthly deduction from a savings or checking account. The benefit will discontinue and be lost for periods in which you do not pay by automatic deduction from a savings or checking account. *To check the rates and terms you qualify for, SoFi conducts a soft credit inquiry. Unlike hard credit inquiries, soft credit inquiries (or soft credit pulls) do not impact your credit score. Soft credit inquiries allow SoFi to show you what rates and terms SoFi can offer you up front. After seeing your rates, if you choose a product and continue your application, we will request your full credit report from one or more consumer reporting agencies, which is considered a hard credit inquiry. Hard credit inquiries (or hard credit pulls) are required for SoFi to be able to issue you a loan. In addition to requiring your explicit permission, these credit pulls may impact your credit score.
  2. Terms and Conditions Apply. SOFI RESERVES THE RIGHT TO MODIFY OR DISCONTINUE PRODUCTS AND BENEFITS AT ANY TIME WITHOUT NOTICE. To qualify, a borrower must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident in an eligible state and meet SoFi’s underwriting requirements. Not all borrowers receive the lowest rate. To qualify for the lowest rate, you must have a responsible financial history and meet other conditions. If approved, your actual rate will be within the range of rates listed above and will depend on a variety of factors, including term of loan, a responsible financial history, years of experience, income and other factors. Rates and Terms are subject to change at anytime without notice and are subject to state restrictions. SoFi refinance loans are private loans and do not have the same repayment options that the federal loan program offers such as Income Based Repayment or Income Contingent Repayment or PAYE. Licensed by the Department of Business Oversight under the California Financing Law License No. 6054612. SoFi loans are originated by SoFi Lending Corp., NMLS # 1121636. (

4 Important Disclosures for LendKey.

LendKey Disclosures

Refinancing via is only available for applicants with qualified private education loans from an eligible institution. Loans that were used for exam preparation classes, including, but not limited to, loans for LSAT, MCAT, GMAT, and GRE preparation, are not eligible for refinancing with a lender via If you currently have any of these exam preparation loans, you should not include them in an application to refinance your student loans on this website. Applicants must be either U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in an eligible state to qualify for a loan. Certain membership requirements (including the opening of a share account and any applicable association fees in connection with membership) may apply in the event that an applicant wishes to accept a loan offer from a credit union lender. Lenders participating on reserve the right to modify or discontinue the products, terms, and benefits offered on this website at any time without notice. LendKey Technologies, Inc. is not affiliated with, nor does it endorse, any educational institution.

5 Important Disclosures for CommonBond.

CommonBond Disclosures

Offered terms are subject to change. Loans are offered by CommonBond Lending, LLC (NMLS # 1175900). If you are approved for a loan, the interest rate offered will depend on your credit profile, your application, the loan term selected and will be within the ranges of rates shown.

All Annual Percentage Rates (APRs) displayed assume borrowers enroll in auto pay and account for the 0.25% reduction in interest rate. All variable rates are based on a 1-month LIBOR assumption of 2.28% effective October 10, 2018.

6 Important Disclosures for Citizens Bank.

Citizens Bank Disclosures

  1. Education Refinance Loan Rate Disclosure: Variable rate, based on the one-month London Interbank Offered Rate (“LIBOR”) published in The Wall Street Journal on the twenty-fifth day, or the next business day, of the preceding calendar month. As of January 1, 2019, the one-month LIBOR rate is 2.51%. Variable interest rates range from 3.01%-9.75% (3.01%-9.75% APR) and will fluctuate over the term of the borrower’s loan with changes in the LIBOR rate, and will vary based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Fixed interest rates range from 3.90%-8.99% (3.90%-8.99% APR) based on applicable terms, level of degree earned and presence of a cosigner. Lowest rates shown are for eligible, creditworthy applicants with a graduate level degree, require a 5-year repayment term and include our Loyalty discount and Automatic Payment discounts of 0.25 percentage points each, as outlined in the Loyalty and Automatic Payment Discount disclosures. The maximum variable rate on the Education Refinance Loan is the greater of 21.00% or Prime Rate plus 9.00%. Subject to additional terms and conditions, and rates are subject to change at any time without notice. Such changes will only apply to applications taken after the effective date of change. Please note: Due to federal regulations, Citizens Bank is required to provide every potential borrower with disclosure information before they apply for a private student loan. The borrower will be presented with an Application Disclosure and an Approval Disclosure within the application process before they accept the terms and conditions of their loan.
  2. Federal Loan vs. Private Loan Benefits: Some federal student loans include unique benefits that the borrower may not receive with a private student loan, some of which we do not offer with the Education Refinance Loan. Borrowers should carefully review their current benefits, especially if they work in public service, are in the military, are currently on or considering income based repayment options or are concerned about a steady source of future income and would want to lower their payments at some time in the future. When the borrower refinances, they waive any current and potential future benefits of their federal loans and replace those with the benefits of the Education Refinance Loan. For more information about federal student loan benefits and federal loan consolidation, visit We also have several resources available to help the borrower make a decision at, including Should I Refinance My Student Loans? and our FAQs. Should I Refinance My Student Loans? includes a comparison of federal and private student loan benefits that we encourage the borrower to review.
  3. Citizens Bank Education Refinance Loan Eligibility: Eligible applicants may not be currently enrolled. Applicants with an Associate’s degree or with no degree must have made at least 12 qualifying payments after leaving school. Qualifying payments are the most recent on time and consecutive payments of principal and interest on the loans being refinanced. Primary borrowers must be a U.S. citizen, permanent resident or resident alien with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. Resident aliens must apply with a cosigner who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. The cosigner (if applicable) must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident with a valid U.S. Social Security Number residing in the United States. For applicants who have not attained the age of majority in their state of residence, a cosigner will be required. Citizens Bank reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at anytime. Interest rate ranges subject to change. Education Refinance Loans are subject to credit qualification, completion of a loan application/consumer credit agreement, verification of application information, certification of borrower’s student loan amount(s) and highest degree earned.
  4. Loyalty Discount Disclosure: The borrower will be eligible for a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their loan if the borrower or their co-signer (if applicable) has a qualifying account in existence with us at the time the borrower and their co-signer (if applicable) have submitted a completed application authorizing us to review their credit request for the loan. The following are qualifying accounts: any checking account, savings account, money market account, certificate of deposit, automobile loan, home equity loan, home equity line of credit, mortgage, credit card account, or other student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. Please note, our checking and savings account options are only available in the following states: CT, DE, MA, MI, NH, NJ, NY, OH, PA, RI, and VT and some products may have an associated cost. This discount will be reflected in the interest rate disclosed in the Loan Approval Disclosure that will be provided to the borrower once the loan is approved. Limit of one Loyalty Discount per loan and discount will not be applied to prior loans. The Loyalty Discount will remain in effect for the life of the loan.
  5. Automatic Payment Discount Disclosure: Borrowers will be eligible to receive a 0.25 percentage point interest rate reduction on their student loans owned by Citizens Bank, N.A. during such time as payments are required to be made and our loan servicer is authorized to automatically deduct payments each month from any bank account the borrower designates. Discount is not available when payments are not due, such as during forbearance. If our loan servicer is unable to successfully withdraw the automatic deductions from the designated account three or more times within any 12-month period, the borrower will no longer be eligible for this discount.
  6. Co-signer Release: Borrowers may apply for co-signer release after making 36 consecutive on-time payments of principal and interest. For the purpose of the application for co-signer release, on-time payments are defined as payments received within 15 days of the due date. Interest only payments do not qualify. The borrower must meet certain credit and eligibility guidelines when applying for the co-signer release. Borrowers must complete an application for release and provide income verification documents as part of the review. Borrowers who use deferment or forbearance will need to make 36 consecutive on-time payments after reentering repayment to qualify for release. The borrower applying for co-signer release must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If an application for co-signer release is denied, the borrower may not reapply for co-signer release until at least one year from the date the application for co-signer release was received. Terms and conditions apply.

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